MIKE MASTERSON: Often undiagnosed

Beastly wrath

It's hard to believe almost a fifth of adult Americans experience some form of mental illness in any given year. That's just the reported cases, according to the CEO for Centers of Psychiatric Excellence, Dr. Prakash Masand. That amounts to about 44 million of us who come face to face with what I call "The Beast."

Other studies place the number of worldwide adults suffering with mental illnesses in various forms as high as 25 percent, adding that nearly half of U.S. adults can be expected to develop at least one form of mental illness during their lifetimes.

Once identified, whether the affliction be schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, ADHD, PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or any number of 265 diagnosable psychological impairments, the beast seriously affects quality of life.

Masand also says psychiatric afflictions range on a spectrum of severity and can wax and wane with different phases throughout a lifetime.

I'll sometimes find myself reflecting on such statistics in a crowded stadium of 80,000 screaming fans and realizing upwards of 20,000 of them (probably myself included) suffer from some form of psychologically related impairment.

Three of my closest lifelong friends and I got an intimate look at this large percentage when we lost William, a fifth friend in our group, in 1996 to the self-inflicted results of schizophrenia. Some said his delusions were mixed with a combination of bipolar disorder. We never knew for sure.

The beast that would claim William's life insidiously crept into his world, as it does with so many, during his early 20s. His pattern became desperately familiar. He would cycle mentally downhill into a bizarre detachment from reality. William then would spend a week in treatment to get back to taking the helpful meds he never liked for the sluggish way they made him feel. His life would straighten out for a while, then he'd stop the meds and begin drinking again.

My guess is most of you have either had, or still have, family members and friends of all ages dealing with a wide range of mental disorders that we still insist on socially stigmatizing in a way we don't with physical diseases.

The beast often strikes early. The Archives of General Psychiatry reported half of all chronic mental illnesses begin by age 14 and three-fourths by age 24.

At the risk of citing additional statistical information for your dozing pleasure, I believe it's pertinent to describe more of what's happening with our population's psyche across America today. After all, May is National Mental Health Awareness Month.

Many Americans suffer from more than one mental disorder at any given time. Some 45 percent of those with any disorder meet the criteria for two or more others, with their severity strongly related to the combination (called comorbidity), says the National Institute of Mental Health.

Expenditures associated with mental disorders were among the five most costly medically related conditions in the United States in 2006 at $57.5 billion.

As for the combined effects of mind-altering substances such as alcohol and drugs, 8.9 million persons have so-called co-occurring disorders. They have both a mental and substance abuse disorder.

That was certainly the case with our friend William. Alcohol was the catalyst that always sent him into the cyclical tailspins of recovery and relapse. He was far from being alone. One-fourth of all adult stays in U.S. community hospitals involve depressive, bipolar, schizophrenia and other mental health or substance abuse-related disorders.

Yet family physicians (not formally trained in psychiatry) diagnose only about 30 percent. The symptoms obviously can be disguised. Plus, they can rise and fall like waves on a beach during different phases of one's life.

The National Institute of Mental Health reports close associations between bouts of anxiety disorder among 40 million Americans older than 18 (about 18 percent of the people in this age group) with depressive disorders or substance abuse. Nearly three-quarters of those suffering with anxiety disorder will have had their first episode by age 22.

In short, we have a serious and expanding problem on our hands when it comes to effectively (and rationally) dealing with mental illness or various disorders and the havoc they so often wreak across society.

Delays as long as decades can occur between the appearance of symptoms and the time it takes victims to recognize they need help. Dr. Masand says self-awareness followed by action is always the key. "No matter how many people around them want to extend a helping hand, it takes the individual themselves to find treatment and their desire for wellness to truly improve."

Yet that can be a huge task considering the shame, embarrassment and stigma society imposes on victims of such a varied and widespread illness. The mental and emotional deterrents can be powerful enough to prevent many from ever seeking professional help.

The best any of us can do to try and help the afflicted people we care about is to educate ourselves and be open to providing them with understanding and support during their difficult times we came to recognize with our late friend William after the beast slithered into his life.


Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

Editorial on 05/15/2018